DENSO, one of the world’s biggest automotive parts suppliers, announced it led the latest Series A funding round for Metawave Corporation, a Silicon Valley-based automotive startup developing radar for autonomous driving and wireless solutions for the deployment of 5G cellular networks.
Also participating in the round was Mirae Asset Capital and NTT DOCOMO Ventures, and existing Metawave investor, BOLD Capital Partners. DENSO plans to harness Metawave’s technologies to accelerate development of a smart radar system for autonomous cars.
DENSO first invested in Metawave in May, 2018, taking part in the initial seed round of $17 million from along with automakers Toyota, Hyundai, and German semiconductor company Infineon.
“We’ve been working with Metawave since its founding and are continually impressed with the innovation their team creates and delivers,” said Tony Cannestra, director of Corporate Ventures at DENSO, and Metawave board member. “Automakers are betting big on autonomous vehicles and one of the many things they need to make that a reality is innovative radar systems. DENSO is excited to continue to partner with Metawave and leverage their impressive technology as we continue to quickly create new value in the mobility industry.”
Metawave is conducting groundbreaking work in radar sensing with its state-of-the-art analog beam-steering radar, which the company claims provides longer range, higher resolution, and greater accuracy and intelligent object classification compared to traditional radars. The company unveiled its first radar design in Jan 2018 at CES.
Radar is able to track and locate objects by emitting radio waves and measuring the reflected signals. More advanced systems like the ones Metawave is developing use electronics for “beam steering” to direct radio waves without having to mechanically point the antenna in different directions.
In 2016, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered that by applying voltages to an antenna built out of metamaterials, engineers could actively control the direction of a radar beam. That makes the radar system less costly and smaller than ones steered by mechanical parts or other electronics.
Self-driving vehicles typically use a combination of radar, lidar and cameras for navigation, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses. Cameras, for example, are low cost and high resolution, but requires a substantial amount of computer vision pre-processing to detect objects. At night or in bad weather the range of the cameras is reduced.
Lidar, which reflects laser beams off objects, is powerful but very expensive as reserved for highly specialized vehicles. In addition, lidar often lacks the long range perception required for higher speed driving.
However, Radar offers a balanced mix of performance and low cost. Today’s radar devices inexpensive to produce, reliable and offer decent range and weather tolerance, making them ideal for mass production.
The radar developed by Metawave is used primarily for navigation, help vehicle to avoid objects such as other vehicles and pedestrians. The advanced radar technology allows carmakers to outfit vehicles with next-generation adaptive cruise control systems, lane change assist and automated emergency braking features, which may lead to increased road safety.
Metawave’s radar operates in the millimeter wave (mm-wave) spectrum, a specific part of the radio frequency (RF) band between 24GHz and 100GHz, which have shorter wavelengths. These shorter wavelengths can transfer data faster, even though the signal distance is shorter.
5G for Connected Cars
In addition to radar sensing, Metawave is developing leading-edge active repeaters and passive relays to support the implementation of 5G connected technologies. Metawave says its TURBO active repeaters boost signals thousands of times faster to extend coverage in challenging areas.
Metawave’s ECHO branded passive relays function as “smart mirrors” that bend and direct 5G signals in areas of lower coverage. The ECHO relays for example can be mounted atop traffic lights to boost 5G signal strength.
The repeaters and relays enable faster, more efficient 5G connectivity in crowded cities, in areas where the 5G signals can be blocked by buildings or other infrastructure. The technology also works to boost signals when there are many users, such as at crowded concerts and sporting events, or other areas of cellular coverage with poo cellular coverage.
5G connectivity shows promise for vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V) or vehicle-to infrastructure (V2I), allowing vehicles to communicate with traffic lights and nearby vehicles. 5G speeds are up to 100 times faster data than 4G, while supporting applications where low-latency is needed, such as autonomous driving.
“As demands change in mobility and connectivity, we’re proud to work with our automotive partners, like DENSO, to advance radar capabilities in vehicles, and with our telecom customers to provide 5G solutions. Even though we are a young company, we’re playing a key role in helping to create a future where roads are safer and society is more efficient and productive,” said Maha Achour, founder and CEO of Metawave.
Metawave also Leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence for its analog radars. The company is developing a new radar called SPEKTRA, which Metawave claims is the first beam steering radar system capable of distinguishing between objects in all-weather conditions including fog, rain, and darkness.
The company has been delivering its Proof of Concept (POC) to leading automakers and Tier 1 transportation providers for the past year, demonstrating its beam-forming and beam-steering radar in challenging environments.